In the midst of this broken and shattered society in which we live, it’s interesting to see the growth in popularity of the search of genealogies and family research, which has mushroomed. It shows the hunger of so many people for a sense of belonging as they search out their roots, where they came from, their family history, and finding and keeping in touch with newly found relatives. As I write this I think of my own family tree that my brother has been keeping. A cousin, a statistician, in Ireland has a great book, an account of our family-births, marriages, and deaths, are all recorded and remembered. There is also a place called the ‘homestead’, the home build by my great-grandfather, which to me, is a most sacred place. Family roots and stories are an important part of our spiritual life.
We turn our attention to Jesus’ family tree, His roots, and the stories that form much of His life. The Gospel reading (Matt. 1:1-17) is the one with all the “Begats” in it, the one with the long list of names. Many of them are unfamiliar and difficult to pronounce. So what is its’ importance? I have been asked more then once: “Does that Gospel have to be read?” Yes, it does. It is the opening curtain of the story of Jesus. It is the background to the story of His life. It is the whole meaning of the Nativity. It leaves no doubt that when God the Father sent His Son into the world, it was into the arms of a human family with a great deal of history.
Sometimes it is difficult to give a homily on this Gospel reading. It needs a whole weekend to ponder. It’s not all pleasant reading. Many of the stories are of people of great holiness, but others are remembered for their terrible failures. It’s the story of heroic holiness joined with murder, incest, adultery, and betrayal of friendships. The story of Jesus’ family is interrupted as it comes near annihilation as it is deported into exile. Why all of this? The main point is that God the Father is in charge. He works His plan through the goodness and the awful failures of human history. Jesus associates Himself with the whole story.
The Pharisees once boasted to Jesus: “Abraham is our father”, (John 8:39) but Jesus says that everyone, including ourselves, who believe in Him as the Lord, are now true children of Abraham. Jesus’ family tree is now our family tree.
St. Paul (Romans 11:16-24) uses the image of a tree graft to tell us how we can become part of God’s family, regardless of our ancestry. We have been welcomed into His family through Baptism.
The epistle for the Sunday before Nativity is taken from sections of the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. It describes the faith of the ancestors of Christ. It concludes with the words:
“Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden of sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.”
“Come, Bethlehem. Prepare for the birth! Come, Joseph and be registered with Mary. O holy manger, O swaddling clothes that will carry God! There the Life will be wrapped, Christ God Himself, Who will tear to pieces the wrappings of death and bind up Humankind in immortality.” (service of preparation for the Nativity)
Originally published on December 21st, 2003